Have you ever seen those pictures of mountaineers ascending a snow-covered peak in single file holding onto a rope? It’s called a rope team. It makes a lot of sense that you’d want to be linked together like this while climbing an icy mountain. The rope provides a layer of safety for the individual members of the group. If one person slips, the rest of the team can help stop him from taking the ultimate tumble.
The body of Christ is like an enormous rope team, making its way towards Zion’s heavenly peak, and prayer is the rope that binds us together. Even in our “prayer closet,” when we think we’re praying alone, we aren’t. Consider the fact that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told them to pray using the first-person plural: Our Father … give us, forgive us, lead us, etc. We’re reminded that when we pray, we’re bringing together the needs of the whole community of faith. I don’t think we’ll know until we’re in God’s presence just how much we were sustained by the prayers of others, or how much our prayers helped to uphold them!
In his book, Losing Susan, priest-scholar Victor Lee Austin describes his wife’s battle with brain disease. Prior to her death, she reached a point in her sickness where prayer felt impossible. She understood the mechanics of prayer but had no appetite for it. It was “like having a five-star gourmet dinner delivered to your door but finding (or feeling) that your nose no longer smelled, and your tongue no longer tasted.” What do you do in a situation like this? He continues, “[T]he prayers of a community can be strong enough to carry along an individual who is, at a given time, unable to pray. A sign of this is that in church each of us doesn’t have to be paying attention at every moment throughout the entire liturgy. It seems to me that God arranges it so that at any given time at least one person is genuinely praying” (pp. 50–51).
Even when we experience prayer drought, we’re carried along by the prayers of God’s people. Writing to the Philippians from prison, Paul could say, “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (Phil. 1:19). This is great news, but what if you’re not on anyone’s prayer list? In one sense, we each benefit from the corporate prayers of the church. We are included in the our of the our Father, roped in as the people of God. Besides this, we should also be comforted by the fact that the captain of the rope team, Jesus Christ, ever lives to make intercession for his people (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25).
You’re never praying alone, because Jesus is praying with and for you. Above all else, it’s the priestly ministry of Jesus that upholds you. When Jesus warned Peter about Satan’s plan to destroy him, he said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32). Peter fell, but the prayers and compassion of Jesus raised him to his feet again. When you approach God’s throne of grace, never envision yourself alone. We come roped together with the whole family of God, led by Jesus himself!